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article imageChemicals in marijuana and chili peppers can calm inflammation

By Karen Graham     Apr 26, 2017 in Health
Farmington - You might not think that chili peppers and marijuana have anything in common, but researchers at the University of Connecticut have discovered a new function for the chemicals found in hot peppers and pot that calm inflammation in the digestive tract.
In a study published online April 24 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers at UConn found that when eaten together, the chemicals in marijuana and chili peppers act on the same receptors in our digestive tract.
The research could lead to new treatments for Type 1 Diabetes, colitis and other disorders of the intestinal tract, as well as lead to further intriguing studies on the relationship between our immune system, the gut, and the brain.
We all know that if we touch a chili pepper to our tongue, we find out very quickly that it's hot. This is how the process works: Capsaicin, a chemical in the pepper responsible for that heat, binds to receptors in our gastrointestinal tract. The receptors, in turn, produce a chemical called anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid that's chemically similar to the cannabinoids found in marijuana. How cool is that?
Capsicum  the  hot  component of chilli peppers makes people cry  but the U.S. Food and Drug Adminis...
Capsicum, the "hot" component of chilli peppers makes people cry, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it as a pain relief treatment, and allergy research shows it could help clear up some sinus problems.
Tim Sackton/Flickr.com
The brain also has receptors for anandamide. It is these receptors that react with the cannabinoids in marijuana and make people who use pot high. Scientists have wondered for a long time why we even have receptors for cannabinoids in our brains because they don't appear to interact with our bodily functions in the way opioid receptors do.
Curiosity led the researchers to feed capsaicin to mice under laboratory conditions. Not only did the capsaicin result in less inflammation in their guts, but they even cured Type 1 diabetes in mice by feeding them chili peppers.
The study found that at the molecular level, capsaicin was binding to a receptor called TRPV1, a specialized receptor found throughout the gastrointestinal tract. This binding of capsaicin with TRPV1 creates anandamide, a chemical similar to the cannabinoids found in marijuana.
It was specifically the anandamides that calmed the immune system down, and the scientists found that by feeding the mice anandamides directly, they got the same gut-soothing effects.
"This allows you to imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other. They share a common language," says Pramod Srivastava, Professor of Immunology and Medicine at UConn School of Medicine. The common language is more like one word - anandamide.
Polish MP Piotr Liroy-Marzec's bill supports the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal use  s...
Polish MP Piotr Liroy-Marzec's bill supports the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal use, such as this cannabis-made product for therapeutic use seen on December 22, 2015
Guillermo Legaria, AFP/File
It's difficult to get a federal license to experiment with marijuana on people in the United States, but UConn researchers are looking at possibly contacting those states where marijuana has been legalized to do studies on cannabinoids and the effects of regular marijuana use on the gastrointestinal system, reports Inverse.
"I'm hoping to work with the public health authority in Colorado to see if there has been an effect on the severity of colitis among regular users of edible weed," since pot became legal there in 2012, Srivastava says. If the epidemiological data shows a significant change, that would make a testable case that anandamide or other cannabinoids could be used as therapeutic drugs to treat certain disorders of the stomach, pancreas, intestines and colon.
So maybe a bowl of chili with a pot-laced brownie for dessert might be a good way to calm your gut down. The study was done by researchers in the Department of Immunology and Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and the Division of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Connecticut Children's Medical Center, both in Farmington, Ct.
Further reading on studies using chili peppers:
New evidence in favour of gingerol’s anti-cancer properties
Does eating peppers help raise life expectancy?
More about Capsaicin, Marijuana, Chili peppers, calm inflammation, anandamide